Sunday, 20 July 2014

The show moves on

THE next stage of the CTFC pre-season roadshow took us to the New Windmill Ground in Leamington on Friday night.
I missed the first 10 minutes - the perils of having three children in tow, who need to be fed and I was remiss of not factoring this and the subsequent call of nature stop into the travel calculations.
But on arrival, I hadn't missed much, bar the arrival of two new triallists and, as expected, the fielding of a young-looking, mix-and-match side.
We started like this: McNamara; Braham-Barrett, Deaman, Elliott, Bowen; Hanks, Joe Curtis (new triallist), Williams; Sterling-James, Kotwica, Rakish Bingham (new triallist).
In the 35 minutes of first-half action I did see, I thought we were once again neat and tidy - the passing out from the back and pressing from the front that we have seen in previous friendlies being in evidence once again.
We also started with the 4-3-3 system, two wide men supporting one main forward, and there were some solid, if not spectacular displays.
Harry Williams scored the first goal after a Curtis free-kick deflected into his path off the defensive wall, and having shaded the first half I thought we were good value for that lead.
On-trial goalkeeper Ben McNamara, a bit shaky at Evesham, looked more self-assured and pulled off one very good save after a mistake by Braham-Barrett, playing once again at right-back and showing why we need some cover there.
Joe Hanks was playing a deep midfield role, and was or best first-half player in my view - but overall the younger element in the side, Bowen, Williams and Kotwica, showed more than they had in the opening 45 at Evesham.
Of the two triallists we had seen before, Deaman was solid enough, bar a mistake in the run-up to Leamington's equaliser, whole Sterling-James was quieter than he had been against Evesham and Bristol Rovers.
As far as the new ones go, I thought Curtis, a 20-year-old who came through that famed academy at Southampton and was given a pro contract, was busy, keen to get involved and full of industry, but probably too similar to what we already have to get a chance with us.
Bingham is also 20 and freed by Wigan via a loan spell with Falkirk last season. He was at one time a target for Manchester City and Newcastle, and had been on trial with Bournemouth earlier this summer.
He scored for them in a 2-2 draw with FC Copenhagen during their training camp and Mark Yates got a glowing reference on him from their manager Eddie Howe.
He showed some decent touches and clearly has ability, but I felt he was holding back on a few occasions, and subsequently found out he is coming back from a cruciate injury, which would explain a slight reticence to give it the whole hog in a pre-season game.
We will see if they get invited to the training camp in Devon next week as a clue to whether they might stand a chance of getting something with us.
Late in the game, we saw some of the cavalry arrive - Troy Brown, Matt Richards, Jason Taylor, Andy Haworth and Byron Harrison, along with Adam Powell and Bobbie Dale all getting run-outs.
The winner came from a decent move finished off by a Matt Richards header (yes, header...!) and all-in-all it was a decent enough run-out on a pretty warm evening.
It was good to see Steve Elliott come through after he limped off against Bristol Rovers, while there was no Terry Gornell and Paul Black after their knocks in that game, while we didn't see Asa Hall either.
Unfortunately, the balmy evening game way to a pretty soggy Saturday for the open day at Seasons, but all credit to those involved as the show went on regardless and it was good to see a decent turnout.
Those who organised it did a fantastic job and the feedback since the event on social media has been positive and I think it will lay a good foundation for the season ahead and has done good work for the unity within the club and the supporters.
The training session was interesting to watch (no Gornell and Hall involved, but everyone else trained) and it was good to see plenty of smiles on faces on and off the training field.
We all waited for the new kit and the rain stopped just in time for Miss Cheltenham and the squad to model our new red and white striped kit - and very smart it looks as well.
I have made no secret that I wanted us to keep the ruby, but I like the new kit and am especially happy to see white shorts rather than red or black, and it was also great to see long queues to buy the new shirts and hopefully the club has made some decent money from it.
As well as that, it was encouraging to see the Trust and 500 Club getting new membership sign-ups. These two ventures do a lot for the club in raising money and financing improvements to the facilities and should be supported.
All in all, it was an excellent day and something I hope will become an annual event now. Everyone - directors, management, players and fans - bought into it and this sort of united front can only serve us well for the new season.
The best part for me was the players' attitudes. Every photo request and autograph request was met with a smile. There was no slinking into the background - they were talking to fans, engaging with them and putting across a positive tone, and in the training session there was plenty of smiles on faces suggesting a tight-knit group developing.
As you would expect, there were a few rumours flying around, and the main one was that we have offered contracts (I assume one year each) to the triallists Deaman and Sterling-James (Jon Palmer's story on this here)
They were involved in training at the open day, and the consensus from the fans I spoke to about this on Saturday was positive. Many seem to have been impressed by them both, and agree that the pair are worth a punt.
Deaman hopefully will benefit from working alongside Steve Elliott and definitely falls into the young and hungry category we have banged on about so much this summer.
He is decent in the air and his distribution from the back is pretty good, and he has fired out some decent diagonal passes in the games we have seen, but needs to work, I feel, on his positioning and timing of the tackle but there is something to work on there.
He is also helped by his versatility. He can play at right-back, so will give us some cover there, and played a number of Conference South games for Eastbourne Borough last season as a holding midfielder, sat just in front of the back four.
Sterling-James has excited people since his cameo at Evesham, and he was also bright against Bristol Rovers. He had less impact against Leamington, but again over the three games has shown potential.
That in itself is the trouble with young players, and wingers in general - they will be hit and miss.
But he is a rough diamond, and hopefully working with Yatesy and Shaun North can smooth him out a bit and he might be a useful weapon late in games - let's hope he isn't another Bagasan Graham or Sos Yao.
Assuming the rumours are true and they have been offered and accept the deals offered, they will take the squad to 20 players, as follows:

Goalkeeper: Carson
Defenders: Vaughan, Braham-Barrett, Elliott, Brown, Black, Deaman
Midfielders: Richards, Hall, Taylor, Hanks, Powell, Williams
Wingers: Sterling-James, Kotwica, Haworth, Bowen
Strikers: Harrison, Dale, Gornell

Yates has said all along he wants 23 players, so that leaves three gaps to fill and there are a few squad numbers still going spare - notably 4 and 7, with number 12 for a sub goalkeeper, who will fill squad space 21.
He wants back-up to Trevor Carson, a right-back centre-half (Deaman now, we assume), a winger (Sterling-James it seems) a striker and a centre-half.
The striker may yet be Jamie Cureton coming back to re-claim his number 7 shirt, and the latest on this saga from Jon Palmer is here.
I made my feelings pretty clear on this move in the last blog, and feel it would be a retrogade step, but am prepared to be proved wrong on this one if Curo comes back.
But judging by his post-match interview at Leamington there still seem to be other targets from outside the triallists, notably this centre-half from a League One side who could be our potential captain.
We are told he is in his early 30s and has a year left on his contract with his current club, and a friend has been doing some detective work - and there are not many players who fit the bill.
However, he has found three - Chesterfield's Ian Evatt, Doncaster's Jamie McCombe and Oldham's Adam Lockwood.
Of course there may be some who have slipped through the net, but there is no doubt that any of the above three would greatly enhance our squad.
Evatt is 32, with 400-plus League games mainly for Chesterfield and Blackpool, while McCombe is 31 and is coming up to the 400 appearance mark with seven clubs and Lockwood is 32 and was at Forest Green on loan in 2001 before playing most of his league games for Doncaster and Yeovil.
I have no information on who this mystery player is - this is just idle speculation based on someone else's Google trawls, but I wouldn't turn my nose up on any of those three joining us.
The squad are off to Devon this week for three days training and bonding time before we play at Bath next Saturday - and we might have a few more answers to the gaps in the squad by then.